Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Game 6 at Coquitlam Express

Bo Pieper (24) of the Coquitlam Express looks on in disbelieve
after Alex Murray (35) comes up with the save of the series

In dramatic fashion the Prince George Spruce Kings found a way to fight another day after posting a 3-2 double overtime win while facing elimination in game five on Monday night in Prince George. The fans came out to show their support of the Spruce Kings on this night and they came prepared to make some noise ... and did they ever make some noise!

The Prince George Spruce Kings came out flying and ended up outshooting the Coquitlam Express 14-5 in the first period. It was the Express that opened the scoring when Corey Mackin and Ryan Rosenthal were able to steal the puck in the neutral zone and turn a two-on-one through the slot with Rosenthal passing over to Mackin to finish the play.

The score would remain 1-0 for the visitors until late in the second period when the Spruce Kings would get a powerplay chance to work with. From the faceoff draw, Chad Staley won the puck back to Justin Rai who dropped back to the right point. Rai faked the shot and then fired a crisp pass across the zone to the left point where Mitch Eden waited to unleash his one-timer. The shot from the point was a laser beam into the back of the net tying the game at one on the defenceman's third of the post season.

This goal was the first moment when everybody started believing again. A couple of shifts later the building was officially rocking when Marco Ballarin came on the ice and started laying the body with some big hits, none bigger than the one on Joey Santucci that led to a melee resulting in another powerplay for the Prince George Spruce. Powerplay goals have been a premium in this series with only two being scored between the two teams and this powerplay wouldn't change that total.

In the third period, the Spruce Kings would take the 2-1 lead when the trio of Chad Staley, Justin Rai and Chad Staley teamed up on a play that started low in the offensive zone. From the right corner Staley fired a tight shot into the blue paint that went off a stick in front. Rai poked at which allowed the puck to slide to the opposite side of the net for a waiting Luedtke to push in his first of the game at 7:41.

The Coquitlam Express stuck to their forechecking game plan that propelled them to within a game of eliminating Prince George. Again from centre ice, the Express line led by the Pieper brothers gained the Spruce Kings zone. Canon Pieper found Brendan Lamont the puck who then spotted Bo Pieper on the far right side and fed him the puck. With barely enough room to squeeze the puck between the post and the pads of Murray, Pieper did exactly that to tie the game up at 2 with over eight minutes remaining in regulation time.

Nothing would be settled in those final minutes leading to overtime ... a full twenty minute sudden death/victory overtime period played five on five. In that first overtime period the highlight of the period, if not the game, if not the series would be a save by Alex Murray as he reached across the face of the open net and snatched a sure goal out of the air off the stick of Brendan Lamont as he was set up by Bo Pieper (highlight video). Both teams would get their chances to end the game in that first overtime period with the Spruce Kings outshooting the Express 16-13.

In the end this game would need a second overtime period but just the first 22 seconds of it. With the top line on the ice to start double overtime, the Spruce Kings would gain the offensive zone on a nice dump in by Marco Ballarin. Chad Staley would take the first shot on goal that Gordie Defiel was able to stop. Staley got the rebound back on his stick and spotted Jeremiah Luedtke cruising through the slot with a pass onto the tape. As Luedtke faded through the slot, he just waited for the players in front to commit and fired a shot under the goaltender's glove hand (highlight video).

As the Coliseum crowd erupted the broadcast team of Ron St. Clair and Thomas Bohmer commented on how this now becomes a "bus series" and could be won or lost on how the team's manage their miles on the highway between the rinks. Immediately following the game both teams left Prince George for the Lower Mainland with the Spruce Kings pulling into their hotel just before 8am. Life on the road has been a constant for the Spruce Kings, but as we have already seen in this series, having a regular season stat on your side doesn't always equate to wins.

Game six will have to be won on the ice in the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex in Coquitlam on Tuesday night beginning at 7pm. The game will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive beginning with a pregame show at 6:45pm. The pay-per-view feed will be available through Fasthockey.com and although there will be audio available through the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel, it is recommended that those wanting to listen online do so through the radio station's streaming audio link (CLICK HERE TO LISTEN LIVE).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

On the Brink of Elimination

The looks say it all as the Spruce Kings find themselves
down 3-1 in their BCHL Mainland Division Semifinal series

After back-to-back losses in Coquitlam in games three and four, the Prince George Spruce Kings now have their backs to the wall and are fighting for their playoff lives. Facing elimination is never a pleasant feeling but it usually brings the best out of a team and the Spruce Kings haven’t been able to show their best to this point in the series yet.

The Coquitlam Express, on the other hand, have found ways to control the play and score goals. In both of their wins in Coquitlam, the Express never trailed. In game three the team was able to rally around a goal that came against the flow of the play and is looking like the turning point of the series. The goal was scored by Cody Boyd who picked up the puck in his own end, skated the length of the ice and let a weak backhand go from low in the faceoff circle that beat Alex Murray and fluttered into the back of the net.

That goal stood up as the game winner and placed momentum squarely in Coquitlam’s corner. The following night saw the Express score a total of six goals, one was into the back of the net, two went off of bodies and three of them were scored while the team was shorthanded. The first goal on the night was the result of shorthanded two-on-one rush down the ice with Boyd centering the puck for his captain. Ryan Rosenthal never touched the puck with his stick but had it deflect in off his skate instead.

The Spruce Kings got that one back when Justin Rai was sprung on his own break-away and beat Gordie Defiel on the right side above the blocker. Coquitlam had a 2-1 lead before the end of the first period as a result of a high pressure forecheck that caused the Spruce Kings all kinds of grieve well trying to clear the puck out of their own zone. The puck eventually ended up on the stick of Zack Hodder who came off the right point and was able to find the short side of the net with a perfect shot.

Things didn't get much better in the second period when the Spruce Kings found themselves on another powerplay that did result in the first powerplay goal of the series but not before the Express had their second shorthanded goal. Again it was Rosenthal that went down the ice with speed; although his first shot was stopped and he was knocked to the ice, he never gave up on the play and swung wildly at the puck while flat on the ice. The stick ended up chipping the puck up over Murray and under the crossbar to make it a 3-1 game.

Justin Rai and Jeremiah Luedtke would get that one back on a pretty two-on-one play of their own that started in the nuetral zone with Rai gaining the offensive zone with speed. As he put on the brakes and headed to the top of the slot, he passed the puck to Luedtke who fed it back to Rai. Without hesitation, Rai wound up for the big shot but that was a decoy for his slap pass back to Luedtke who just had to direct the puck into the net getting the Spruce Kings to within one.

Before the second period ended, Rai and Luedtke were back at, this time on a two-on-none. Luedtke from the right side took the intial shot that was stopped and directed into the opposite corner. Chad Staley picked it up there and spotted a wide open Rai standing at the top of the slot. Staley got the puck to the Spruce Kings player with the hot hand who faked backhand before lifting a shot over the catching glove of Defiel to tie the game with 21 seconds remaining.

Two faceoffs later the play was in the Spruce Kings end and the Express pressing for the go-ahead goal. The puck went below the goal line into the left corner where Joey Santucci found it and just fired a high centering shot that ended up going off the body of Jace Hennig and into the net with exactly one second showing on the clock. The goal stood up as the eventual game winner as the Spruce Kings would come close only in the third period.

In that final frame the Express would get yet another shorthanded tally this time from Santucci who was able to find a clearing attempt off the stick of Murray. The Spruce Kings goaltender was trying to rim the puck off the wall and out, it hit a defender's stick and landed right in front of Santucci who was able to fire a shot to the far side of the net beating Murray before he could get back between the pipes to make the save.

Both Rosenthal and Rai would have glorious opportunities for their hat trick goals in the third period, Rai would be denied when the puck hopped over his stick while trying to reel in the backdoor pass with an open net waiting for him. Rosenthal would get his third tally of the night after finding the puck in traffic at the top of the zone and went in all alone to deposit the puck into the empty net.

The Prince George Spruce Kings will get one day off and then they will be looking at extending this series and taking it to the full seven games. If it does go that far, momentum may shift back in favour of the Spruce Kings simply because of the travel schedule with the next three games being played on consecutive nights in alternating arenas.

The cliche here is that the hardest game to win is the one that will eliminate the other team. The Spruce Kings aren't banking on cliches, they know it is now up to them to pull out all the stops and get it down starting with game five in the Castle. That too favours Prince George as the Coliseum is one of the hardest buildings for the opposition to win in given it's lively boards and fans. One of the loudest supporters of their team in the BCHL, the fans in Prince George make it tough on the opposition and certainly the seventh man will come in handy on Monday night.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Game Four at Coquitlam Express

Tempers boiled over in Game Three

The Prince George Spruce Kings will be looking to tie this series up at two wins apiece after a disappointing 2-0 loss in Game Three last night. As we have become accustomed to seeing, these two teams played each other extremely tight and frustrated each other for most of the game.

The first period was pretty even on the shot clock and even in chances but remained scoreless. The Spruce Kings ran into some penalty troubles especially late in the opening frame when they found themselves down two men in the final minute. Prince George would have to start the second period playing two men short for 1:31. Alex Murray made some of his best saves to keep the game scoreless putting momentum on the side of the Spruce Kings, unfortunately the Express would steal that momentum and open the scoring three minutes into the period.

With Prince George pressing, a simple turn to the left instead of the right became the difference as Cody Boyd picked up a loose puck in his own end and skated it up the ice basically unchecked. As Boyd went through the middle he faded to the right side and his offwing. From the low faceoff circle Boyd let go a weak backhand that handcuffed Murray and fluttered through the goaltender for the game's first goal and eventual game winner.

That goal also serious swung momentum back in favour of the Coquitlam Express who carried much of the play for the next seven minutes. Fortunately for Prince George they were in the game right til the end but just couldn't capitalize on any of their chances and when they did get quality shots, Gordie Defiel was seeing most of all the shots into his glove. The game remained a one goal game until late in the third period when Bo Pieper found the back of the net on another broken play that started from the top of the Express zone.

The final two and half minutes saw a number of incidents that led to a bit of a blow up with 15 seconds remaining in the game. In a stoppage in play in front of the Express net, Chad Staley was mugged leading to a lot of pushing and shoving and required over ten minutes for the officials to sort out. When the dust settled from that incident the Spruce Kings found themselves short handed with Matt Painchaud in the penalty box and a total of five misconducts handed out to Staley, Braiden Epp and Sean Landrey from the Spruce Kings as well as Adam Rockwood and Zac Hodder of the Coquitlam Express.

The ensuing faceoff went down to the other end of the ice to the Spruce Kings zone and as the puck dropped so did Bo Pieper who was writhing in pain. That drew a confused crowd with the Spruce Kings affiliate player Roshen Jaswal the centre of attention. Again there was a melee of players pushing and shoving against the glass trying to sort out exactly what happened. Jaswal was assessed a five minute major and game misconduct for an apparent slash while Brendan Lamont was given two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. On top of those two game misconducts another six misconducts were assessed to three players from each side; Marco Ballarin, Stephen Penner and Cole Todd from the Spruce Kings, John Saunders, Mark Whitely and Cody Boyd from the Express.

There is not expected to be any loss of manpower from either team as a result of the infractions heading into game four, but certainly that whole incident will be an undercurrent in the game. The Spruce Kings will need to play their game and find ways to capitalize on their chances, especially on the powerplay. If there is one area of the game that could spell the demise of one team and the success of the other, it is the powerplay.

Heading into game four both teams are still to find an odd man goal, but certainly not for a lack of chances. Both teams are 0/13 with the man advantage and both have had extended two man advantages to work with at times. Right now the difference in the series for Prince George seems to be depth up front especially with two key injuries keeping Brent Lashuk and Bryant Christian out of the lineup. Lashuk is not expected to be cleared to play until late April while Christian may be ready to go as early as Monday in Prince George for game five.

Also out of the lineup are two important defenceman with Cooper Rush waiting for doctor's clearance and Karan Toor hopeful to be in the lineup on Monday as well. In the absence of Rush and Toor, the Spruce Kings called up Roshen Jaswal who played progressively more minutes as the game went on and will be getting a lot more to start game four tonight. Jaswal has shown himself to be a smart puck moving defenceman that isn't afraid to use his size or show his mean side a little as well.

Tonight's game has a scheduled 7pm puck drop from the Poirier Sports and Leisure Complex in Coquitlam and will be broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Following the game, the Spruce Kings will head back to Prince George to prepare for game five on Monday night in the Coliseum. Tickets for game five can be purchased at the Spruce Kings office until 5pm Saturday and from noon until 4pm on Sunday as well as all day Monday.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Game Three at Coquitlam Express

Brogan O'Brien (15) scored in Wednesday's game

This BCHL Mainland Division Semi-final now shifts to Coquitlam where the Express have home ice advantage. The series has also become a best of five now after the teams split a pair of 3-2 decisions earlier in the week in Prince George.

The Spruce Kings opened the series with a 3-2 win on Tuesday night on the strength of a pair of goals from Mitch Eden. On Wednesday night Eden added two assists but it wasn't enough as the Express took the 3-2 win riding the red hot goaltender Gordie Defiel who made 39 saves in all.

The Prince George Spruce Kings were the favoured team on paper prior to the first puck drop due in large part to their 7-1-1-0 handling of the Express in the regular season, but that may not be the case anymore. The Spruce Kings took to the road yesterday minus a few key players from their roster due to injuries.

The team is still without Cooper Rush who waits for doctor's clearance to return to action after suffering a knee injury in a game played on January 5th. Brent Lashuk missed the start of the playoffs with a knee injury of his own suffered in the final game of the regular season and is expected to be out six to eight weeks.

During game one's win, Bryant Christian took a puck high that took him out of the game late in the first period and Karan Toor left game two late in the second period with an undisclosed lower body injury. Both players remained in Prince George on Thursday as the bus pulled away from the Coliseum.

Best case scenario is Christian and Toor will be able to suit up for Monday's game five back in PG. In the meantime, the team has called up two players to help fill the vacancies and add some depth to a depleted roster.

Austin Gray is a sixteen year old defenceman that can play forward and will be taking on that role tonight. Gray has already shown that he has a nose for the net and was rewarded with his first BCHL goal in his first BCHL game on February 27th.

Roshen Jaswal is an eighteen year old defenceman that will be getting his first taste of the BCHL playoffs. Jaswal is a 6'3" 200 lbs lefthanded defenceman from Burnaby, BC who was playing for the Grandview Steelers this past season finishing fifth in team scoring. Jaswal is described as a playmaking defenceman that can create scoring chances with good passing.

The Spruce Kings will have to continue what has worked for them so far and build on chances that they create. One of their strengths has been the ability to corrale the highly offensive and potent Coquitlam Express that finished the regular season as the highest scoring team in the League.

Prince George will also want to see their top line start connecting on their chances. Justin Rai is the only one with a goal althought the line has created numerous chances and been a handful for the Express defence. Without question, the play of Defiel between the pipes is a big reason this series is tied at a game a-piece heading back to Coquitlam.

Tonight's game has a 7pm scheduled puck drop and will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive with Ron Gallo and Thomas Bohmer providing the play-by-play and in-game analysis beginning with the pregame show at 6:45pm. The game will also be available as pay-per-view broadcast on Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Game Two vs Coquitlam Express

Mitch Eden (27) had a strong game defensively and
scored twice including the game winner last night

In every series last night the home team took the one game lead with their home ice advantage. The Prince George Spruce Kings held the Coquitlam Express back posting a 3-2 game one victory but it may have come at a cost.

Spruce Kings forward and captain, Bryant Christian is questionable to start the game tonight after leaving late in the opening period with an undisclosed injury. Despite being down their captain and also missing the team’s leading scorer for a good portion of the first and second periods due to an equipment issue, the rest of the team rallied for the win.

Never trailing in the game, the Spruce Kings opened the scoring five minutes in when Matt Painchaud found a loose puck in the blue paint that had squeezed through the pads of Gordie Defiel and only needed to be tapped in. Mitch Eden made it a 2-0 game with his first of the game.

Just seconds prior the Coquitlam Express came to within a goal post of tying the game after Zach Hodder rang the puck off the base of the far side post. The rebound off the iron came out for the Spruce Kings to start their transition up the ice. Cole Todd ended up spotting Eden following up on the play who faked his original shot and then slid his first of the post season just inside the post.

The Coquitlam Express would get that one back to make it a 2-1 game after the first period. With already some huge saves for the visitors, Defiel kept his team in it through the second period as did Alex Murray at the other end. The second period ended as it had began with the Prince George Spruce Kings leading 2-1.

In the third period Mitch Eden would get his second of the game with a blast from the right side of the high slot that sailed through everybody untouched at 7:11. Again the Express would get that one back when Joey Santucci got the perfect tip off a waist high point shot sending the puck past Murray with exactly four minutes remaining in regulation time.

The Express would get a late powerplay and would pull Defiel with just over a minute remaining, but could not get a shot on goal to count. The Express showed their relentless attack last night and it should be expected to be in full force again tonight as the visitors look for the split and to take home ice advantage back with them to Coquitlam for Games Three and Four on Friday and Saturday night.

Elsewhere around the BCHL, all of the home teams posted game one victories. The Langley Rivermen had to come from behind in the second period to win the game 4-2 in the other BCHL Mainland Division Semi-Final.

Tonight's game will be broadcast live on 99.3 the Drive and will also be available from online (click here). The game will also be available from its usual links for the pay-per-view feed on Fasthockey.com. Although the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel will also carry the game it is recommended to listen to 99.3 the Drive with its full feature broadcast beginning with the pregame show at 6:45pm with Allan Bristowe, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Game One vs Coquitlam Express

Marco Ballarin (20) scored his first BCHL goal and added two assists
in his first two games with PG versus Coquitlam

The regular season is done and now begins the hunt to capture the Fred Page Cup. The post season begins for twelve teams in the BCHL tonight including the Prince George Spruce Kings who secured home ice advantage in the first round against the Coquitlam Express.

The Spruce Kings finished the regular season with 70 points while the Express finished third with 59 points. Prince George won the season series over Coquitlam winning seven of the nine meetings and suffering only one loss as well as settling for a single point in a double overtime tie. In all the Spruce Kings amassed a total of 15 points while only giving up four points to the Express.

Despite what appears to be matchup favouring the Prince George Spruce Kings, the Coquitlam Express have their reasons to be optimistic. Coquitlam has the League’s highest goals for record this season with 226 compared to 192 for Prince George. They also led the League in shorthanded goals scored with 19.

In their last game of the regular season, the Express exploded for ten goals and their top line of Ryan Rosenthal, Adam Rockwood and Corey Mackin combined for a total of 9 points in the game. The Pieper brothers also contributed another four points from the second line. Without question the Express can light the lamp and will be looking to do just that against the Spruce Kings tonight.

The Prince George Spruce Kings have limped into the playoffs after having a number of players scratched due to injuries. Karan Toor, Justin Rai and Skylar Pacheco will all draw back into the lineup tonight. The same can’t be said for Brent Lashuk who suffered an injury that could keep the power forward out of the playoffs until at least the end of March. The injury to Cooper Rush is also turning into a longer than expected scenario with the big defenceman still unable to return to action at this time.

The key to success for the Spruce Kings will come from all those things that got them here in the first place. The coaching staff has been preaching a game plan full of accountability and smarts using the transition game to create scoring chances from the speed of the players like Bryant Christian, Jeremiah Luedtke, Chad Staley and Justin Rai up front as well as Christian Weidauer, Skylar Pacheco and Mitch Eden from the blue line.

With Alex Murray getting the start in goal for game one, the team will be looking for another consistent performance between the pipes. Murray finished the season in the Top Five among all goaltenders in the BCHL and in head-to-head meetings vs the Express, has a record of 2.54 GAA and a 923 SV% with 1 shutout.

All that aside though as this is the playoffs ... it's a brand new season and every team and every player starts at zero!

Game One in this Best of 7 series has a 7pm scheduled puck drop with the game broadcast live online with the pay-per-view feed available through Fasthockey.com and a free audio only webcast on the Spruce Kings Mixlr Channel beginning with a pregame show at 6:40pm. Allan Bristowe, Thomas Bohmer and Ron Gallo will provide the play-by-play, analysis and interviews.